It seems like almost every day there’s a new bell or whistle that can be placed on a planter, all insuring greater performance and accuracy, but a few simple adjustments can make all the difference.

“You can buy just about anything and everything for your planters these days, including if you want to put some sweet LED’s on them,” says John Fulton, Auburn University Extension precision agriculture specialist.

“There’s a lot of new stuff coming out with planter technology, and our job is to figure out what it all means to growers, not only of grain crops but also of cotton,” he adds.

A good place to start is with the seed plate, says Fulton.

“A standard plate on a planter has a dimple that the seed falls into as it’s turning. Conceptually, that’s a pretty good idea, but that’s old technology. All of your seed are not the same size and same shape. If I’m running a standard plate, I can do a pretty good job of getting one seed per hole, but when I change a seed – going from a round to a flat or from a big to a small – I’ll start to get skips. And if you go to a small seed, there’s more of a chance of getting doubles caught in that dimple,” he says.

Multiple seed placement can be a detriment because you could be over-seeding by 5 to 10 or more percent, says Fulton. “Most growers are paying too much for their seed already to consider putting out more seed than they want to put out. In one recent test, we were over-seeding by 10 percent, routinely, when we changed seed.”

But there are options today to the standard seed plate, he says, including ones from Precision Planting and the John Deere ProMax 40.

“Today, we have a Precision Planting cotton plate. It has more of a flat face rather than a dimple. A John Deere ProMax 40 set-up also has a flat plate. The hole is flat, and that tells us that no matter the size of the seed, or the shape of the seed, a flat plate is a lot more forgiving than a standard plate. A flat plant will put out a seed every time with very minimal skips and multiples.

We haven’t done any hill-drop planting studies in three years, so we’re working with a single-drop in our cotton planting research here," he said.

If you’re using a Precision Planting plate, and you’re using them on corn and then planting hill-drop on cotton, you’ll need two meters, says Fulton. “We’re planting anywhere from a little over 3 miles per hour to 6 miles per hour, looking at the factor speed plays in planting.”

Using the right plate, hitting the right speed

With the Precision Planting eSet vacuum meters and the ProMax 40, there’s the option of adding a doubles eliminator, he says. “From a data standpoint, a ProMax 40 setup is equivalent to an eSet. There’s a value to that because if you’re a John Deere man and you’re going from corn to hill-drop cotton, there’s not a lot of adjustments to make – just swap out the plates.”

These systems, says Fulton, can drop one seed 99.6 percent of the time. That means you can maintain the plant population or the seed spacing that was originally dialed in.

“When I use a standard plate, I can be at 99 percent with some of them, but when we start changing sizes and other factors, you can be from 92 to 96 percent. If you start using smaller seed, you’ll get multiples. Considering how much you spend for seed, you might want to think about the technology you’re using as part of your meter.”

A second thing to consider is the optimal vacuum range, says Fulton. “Anywhere from 8 to 10 is optimal for a John Deere typically. We normally tell people that rather than being at 8, go ahead and get that meter between 9 and 10 because not every row is equal. You want to be sure that you’re picking up and dropping every seed.

“The eSet is somewhere between 16 and 20 psi. Probably most of you are running an 18 to 19 psi if you’re on an eSet. I would tend to be towards 19. That insures that all of those rows across your planter are all running at peak performance. When you start getting low, you’ll start seeing skips.”

No doubt about it, says Fulton, speed makes a difference when it comes to planting.

“It’s not a big change until you get to about 6 to 7 miles per hour – your meter won’t be quite as good. On the other hand, you’ve got to get it done, especially in a year like 2013 when you’ve got such a short planting window. And it’s not only how fast you plant, but it’s also the target rate at which you’re seeding, the ground speed of your tractor, and the row spacing.”

Many research trials have been conducted to help determine an optimal speed, says Fulton. “The speed of the meter is what we want to consider – how fast is it spinning? If you are below 15 rpm, your planter will not be performing very well on cotton. You will see problems in the field, including skips, at 15 rpm and below. We have seen a yield decrease at 15 rpm, regardless of the seeding rate.

“If you get above 38 rpm, you start to see a disadvantage in the quality of planting in the field. You want to hit that sweet spot between too slow and too fast.”

Planter speed is important, but many other things can impact seed spacing, says Fulton. “If you don’t have a good monitor, you don’t know what’s going on row-by-row. A good monitor can give you accurate information very quickly to make sure things are set up correctly. The monitor can tell you, number one, if you’re getting to your target rate. Secondly, when you start to change seeds and go from skips to multiples, a good monitor can give you that information very quickly.”